The Dangers of Referral and Follow-up via FAX

May 10, 2020

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Fax machines are ubiquitous in physician’s offices for referral and follow-up communication. The word “fax” is short for “facsimile”, from the Latin fac simile meaning “make alike”.

Like the word’s Latin roots, fax machines are outdated, obsolete, and are an ill-advised means of important communication.

In fact, the fax machine as we know it today was first patented by Alexander Bain on May 27, 1843, with his “Electric Printing Telegraph.” Little did Alexander realize the Pandora’s Box he opened of paper, toner, dropped communications, and now, severe security vulnerabilities threatening practices’ abilities to protect confidential patient information.

Let’s Back Up

Fax machines have long been a staple of practice to practice communication. Faxes are used by rules to send referrals, progress notes, patient demographics, and other items. Faxes are the gold communication standard in healthcare and have been for decades.

Despite seeming like an obsolete tech to outsiders, around 17 billion faxes are still sent annually.

How hackers access networks by FAX

Referral and follow up without the fax machine

The Faxplot

Recently, however, security researchers published a groundbreaking method for not only hacking fax machines, but using the hacked fax machines to infiltrate and hack all the computers on the same network as the hacked fax machine.

This is very, very bad news. But this isn’t the worst part.

Most alarming is that this class of vulnerability has existed for decades, and has remained latent– an unnoticed, but unlocked, backdoor.

All that’s required to exploit this backdoor into your practice is a fax number and a phone line. Then it’s Game Over.

CheckPoint Researchers Explained at DefCon:

referral and follow up

With only a phone line, a fax could take full control over the printer, and later spread inside the network accessible to the printer.

What Now?

First and foremost- “lock the door.” The exploit was tested on an HP Officejet Pro 6830; however the exploit is similarly applicable to all fax machines as the vulnerability is in the fax communication protocols. Even online fax services are vulnerable to similar attacks. HP quickly developed and released a software patch, and other vendors have likely followed suit.

First things first, update your fax machine software.

Better Referral and Follow-up Option

It might be time to break up with the fax machine. It will take a long time for the healthcare industry to fully break from its long and complicated relationship with faxes, but there are now better alternatives for many use cases.

Namely, you can receive referrals and follow-up with all the associated documentation, charts, and files online with an online referral management software.

Never again will you miss a referral because it got lost in the grand fax void, or fell off the machine tray, or any of the 100 different ways communication via fax breaks down. Referring practices love having an easier alternative to sending faxes, which you can provide them with an easy, low friction online referral form, powered by AristaMD.

Signup couldn’t be easier — there’s nothing to install. Get started using our referral management platform today.  Break away from the ancient and vulnerable fac simile machine, and watch your referral and follow-up practice grow as a result.